Being a mom has always meant being part of a global community—a not-so-secret society that, at its best, can be an invaluable source of support. And at its worst…well, we’ll get to that.
Motherhood is both a completely unique experience and an extremely relatable one. Reading books and taking classes can be helpful, but—and if you’re a mom, you’re nodding your head knowingly right now—there’s really no substitute for hands-on experience. And once we have that experience, boy, are we eager to share our newfound expertise with anyone who’s even thinking about having a baby.
The evolution of parenting
The problem is, we’re really only experts at being moms to our own kids. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to motherhood. Sure, there are some universal truths, but even those aren’t the same universal truths our mothers lived by when they were raising us.
Our babies practically (and sometimes actually) come home from the hospital with a “this side up” label on their chests, but the recommendation that infants sleep on their backs didn’t become the standard until 1994…which is why your mother-in-law persists in suggesting that you might actually get rid of those bags under your eyes if you’d just put your newborn to bed on his tummy…and maybe throw some rice cereal in his bottle while you’re at it.
While you’re looking for dye-free ibuprofen and watching wide-eyed as black market teething tablet deals go down in your Facebook mom group, your dad is on his way to the liquor cabinet for a thimbleful of whiskey to rub on your sweet baby’s gums.
When you call your mom to ask if she thinks your three year old is ready to go forward facing in the carseat yet, there’s a good chance she’ll say, “Oh, honey, I don’t know…I don’t even think we HAD a carseat for you. But we didn’t let you sit in the front seat until you were 6!”
As long as grandparents are willing to play by the new rules, these generational differences are mostly just good for a nervous laugh (and maybe a moment of disbelief that you and your siblings made it to adulthood). The disagreements that occur within our peer group, though, aren’t always so easy to brush aside. From strangers side-eyeing the contents of your grocery cart to friends offering well-meaning but poorly-worded advice, the struggle is real, and even though we love to laugh/gasp at over-the-top Sanctimommy-style judginess, the Mommy Wars are actually no joke.
Keeping peace in the village
With the rise of social media, parenthood has become an increasingly public affair, starting with pregnancy. The clever announcement, the ultrasound photos, the weekly bump updates, the gender reveal video, the maternity photo shoot…and of course the online mom groups. From due dates to diapering, carseats to couponing, three-nagers to teenagers, babywearing to nanny-sharing, there’s a forum for every topic you can imagine, and if you’re not careful, you could end up in all of them.
Maybe it starts when a real-life friend adds you to a local group. At first, it just seems like a great place to vent, celebrate, ask questions, share recommendations, and maybe get a good deal on a lightly used jogging stroller.
But then some unsuspecting mother will ask about co-sleeping, express her intention to follow a modified vaccine schedule, or confess that she’s having trouble breastfeeding, and suddenly the cheery refrain of, “You got this, mama!” turns into a battle cry. Hyperlinks to wildly opposing studies with wildly varying degrees of credibility are thrown across the comments section like harpoons, and the same moms who were just joking about how cold their coffee was and sharing recipes for homemade baby food are hurling passive-aggressive insults and threatening to call Child Protective Services on each other.
It still takes a village to raise a child, but if we’d rather burn the village down than admit we might have been wrong about the dangers of matches, our children just end up out in the cold.
So how do we fix this culture of mom shaming? How do we offer our support first and our opinions second (or maybe not at all)? The first step might be taking a look at the size of your village. If it’s starting to feel more like a major metropolitan area, complete with horn-honking traffic jams and so many lights coming from so many directions that you can’t see what’s right in front of you, maybe it’s time for you to relocate…or at least take a vacation to clear your head.
If you’re part of any communities (online or otherwise) that aren’t serving any purpose in your life, leave them. On Facebook, there’s literally a “leave group” button. In real life, you’ll have to figure out an exit strategy. “The Mic Drop” can be tempting in some cases, but it’s probably a better idea to go with the “Diplomatic Departure” or the ever-popular “No-Show.” For whatever’s left, consider turning off the notifications (again, easy on social media…but doable either way).
Fine-tune your words of wisdom
Before you offer advice to another mom, ask yourself three questions:
1. Did the other mom ask you for advice?
If not, maybe just keep it to yourself unless her child is actually in danger. (Like, real danger. Not in danger of eating a non-organic banana.)
2. If someone said to you what you’re about to say to her, would you be upset?
If the answer is “probably,” stop and move onto the next question.
3. How can you reframe/rephrase your suggestion to make it more compassionate and/or more constructive?
If you’re about to lift a mama up instead of putting her down, go ahead and start talking!
Be a mama bear…in your own den
Whether you’re the victim of mommy-shaming or you’re the one dishing it out (and let’s face it, most of us have been both), the best thing you can do is take a deep breath and remember what’s really important: being the best mom for YOUR children.
At Our Life Covered℠, we know that there’s more than one right way to be a great mom. That’s why, when you’re looking for a life insurance policy to protect your family, we’ll help you find the one that’s best for the great mom that YOU are.